NASCAR: New crew chief, new optimism for Jamie McMurray in 2015

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One of the standout drivers in the second half of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series was Jamie McMurray, who although he failed to win a points-paying race and missed the Chase for the Sprint Cup was consistently the biggest thorn in the Chasers’ side down the road.

McMurray, in the No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, ended 18th in the 2014 standings – one spot behind rookie teammate Kyle Larson – still won the Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte and secured seven top-five and 13 top-10 finishes in the season.

After a winless year, it seems quite possible that McMurray could return to victory lane in 2015.

He’ll attempt to do so with new crew chief Matt McCall, who takes the reins from Keith Rodden. This will be McMurray’s third crew chief in as many years.

“I’m super stoked about Matt,” McMurray told MotorSportsTalk at the Roar Before the Rolex 24 test last week. “He’s from the same mold that Paul Wolfe and Rodney Childers came from, where he had a driving career, peaked at that, and became crew chiefs. They do as good a job as anyone.

“From Matt’s background, he’s done a really nice job at the shop with his people skills. That’s half the job of being a crew chief, is dealing with and managing the people. I’m anxious to get to track and work with him.”

McMurray, like others, has to adapt to NASCAR’s testing ban for 2015, where only series or Goodyear tire tests are occurring. He related how big of a challenge that will be, especially considering Daytona will mark his first time working with McCall at the track.

“What’s weird is that no one ever wanted to go test, but now we can’t, and you wish you could!” McMurray explained. “It’s also a bit of a challenge for people in my position, where you haven’t worked with your crew chief. You need to learn each other, emotions, your goods and bads. We won’t have that until the Sprint Unlimited and the 150s. It would be nice to have the time before hand.”

As for the car changes coming this year, primarily in the horsepower reduction department, McMurray downplayed it and said it’s more a storyline for the media than an actual issue heading into the year.

“It won’t be too much different… it will be a good way for media to have a good story, about who adapts best to new rules package,” McMurray said. “But the people that adapt the best are the teams that do a good job getting the cars ready to go to track.

“The power side will be the bigger discrepancy,” he added. “Like every year past, there’s gonna be one engine builder ahead of everyone else. Hendrick has been amazing the last few years. I hope that they’re still on top of that. There may be a bigger discrepancy being lower horsepower than there used to be.”

Lastly McMurray gets to shake the cobwebs off – a bit – this weekend at the Rolex 24 at Daytona. He’ll share the No. 02 Chip Ganassi Racing Riley-Ford with Larson (who himself has been busy this month) and two of Ganassi’s IndyCar drivers, Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan.

“It’s probably one of the best perks of driving for Chip is being a part of this event,” he said. “You’re part of a car that can win every year.”

AJ Foyt Racing promotes Benjamin Pedersen from Indy Lights to IndyCar for 2023 season

Benjamin Pedersen AJ Foyt
AJ Foyt Racing
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Benjamin Pedersen is the first driver to land a promotion from Indy Lights into IndyCar for next season as AJ Foyt Racing confirmed Wednesday he’ll be part of its 2023 lineup.

Pedersen, a 23-year-old dual citizen of Denmark and the United States, spent last season running the full Indy Lights schedule for HMD Motorsports. Linus Lundqvist, his teammate, won the Lights title, and Pedersen finished fifth in the final standings. Pedersen earned his only win earlier this month when he led every lap from the pole at Portland.

Pedersen also ran four races for HMD in 2021 with back-to-back runner-up finishes in his debut. Pedersen landed on AJ Foyt Racing team president Larry Foyt’s radar through a “trusted colleague” and Pedersen spent most of last season shadowing the IndyCar team.

His promotion to IndyCar comes ahead of all four drivers who finished ahead of him in the Indy Lights standings, including champion Lundqvist.

“We are really looking forward to having Benjamin as part of the team,” Larry Foyt said. “His enthusiasm is infectious, and he is 100 percent committed to IndyCar, AJ Foyt Racing, and doing the best he can to win races.

“It’s been great to have him embedded with the team this past season, and everyone is excited to hit the ground running when testing begins. It is also great to have a multi-year program in place, which will help him and the team grow together.”

Foyt did not announce a car number for Pedersen. Kyle Kirkwood spent his rookie season driving AJ Foyt’s flagship No. 14 but Kirkwood is moving to Andretti Autosport. The team has not yet announced if Dalton Kellett will return for a fourth season, and a third car for Tatiana Calderon was pulled from competition after seven races because of sponsorship non-payment. Shutting down Calderon’s team removed the only semi-regular female driver from the IndyCar field.

Pedersen, however, was signed to an agreement Foyt said “spans multiple seasons as the team plans to develop the young rookie and is aligned to a longer-term plan for AJ Foyt Racing.”

Pedersen was born in Copenhagen but raised in Seattle and currently lives in Indianapolis. He said his time shadowing the IndyCar team has given him a jump on his rookie preparations.

“I’ve spent a lot of time this season with AJ Foyt Racing learning the ins and outs of making the jump to IndyCar and it’s been really nice to do that in conjunction with my Indy Lights season,” Pedersen said. “IndyCar has been my target goal since I started open wheel racing in 2016. The racing, atmosphere, fans, events, tracks, etc. are all awesome.”